Pollen Allergy | Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Pollen grains, commonly called "pollens" are tiny particles released from the plants. The pollen fertilizes other plants of the same species. The pollens are small, light and dry which can travel a long distance by wind. Pollen of some grasses, trees and weeds lead to allergies in children and adults who are predisposed. Flowering plants like roses and some flowering trees, usually do not cause pollen allergy. Pollen is the common trigger for seasonal allergy in children and adults.

What are the symptoms of pollen allergy?

Pollen allergy usually leads to allergy symptoms in the nose called ‘allergic rhinitis’ and in the eyes called ‘allergic conjunctivitis’ or ‘spring cattrah’. Some children with pollen allergy can develop chest allergy also known as asthma.

Symptoms of pollen allergy of the nose include sneezing, nasal block, running nose and itching. Children can also have a post nasal drip leading to night time cough. The most common symptoms of pollen allergy of the eyes are excessive tearing, itching, redness and edema or swelling in the eyes. Children with asthma have chronic cough, breathlessness and wheezing.

What are the common pollens leading to allergies?
Pollen from grasses, weeds and trees can cause allergies. The most common allergies are caused by pollen from grasses. The common grasses are bermuda grass, rye grass, jowar, bajra and congress grass. Certain weeds can lead to allergy such as ragweed, pigweed, mugwort and amaranthus is a main cause of weed allergies. Certain species of trees, including holoptelea, birch, cedar and oak, also produce highly allergenic pollen.

How is pollen allergy diagnosed?

A pediatric allergist can help you to know what allergens are causing symptoms in your child. This would require allergy testing, which can be done in two ways as detailed below:

1. Skin allergy test or Skin Prick Test (SPT): in this test a small amount of allergen is put on the forearm of the child and gently scratched with a special lancet. This leads to a wheal and flare response which is read after 15 to 20 minutes. The test is painless and bloodless. Skin test gives accurate results in 20 minutes. Many allergens can be tested simultaneously. For more detail on skin prick test click.

2. Blood allergy test (Also called as ImmunoCap): The new generation blood tests are very reliable and are used often. The results take a few days to be available (usually 7-10 days). They are usually more costly compared to skin tests.

How can we prevent pollen allergy in children and adults?
There are many things suggested to reduce your child's pollen allergy. Limiting outdoor activity and play in particular seasons can be helpful in reducing pollen allergy. The season would depend on the particular pollen causing allergy in the child, as different pollen have different seasons. Hence, knowing the pollen to which the child is allergic is important. Keeping windows closed during the pollen season is helpful in reducing the pollen entering the house. It is also recommended to keep the windows of cars closed to reduce the pollen entry into your vehicle. Wearing sunglasses can be helpful in reducing the pollen entering the eyes and is very helpful in children and adults with allergic eyes. Similarly, wearing a mask can reduce the entry of pollen into the nose and is useful for children with nasal allergies. Bathing and shampooing hair daily before going to bed helps in removing pollen from hair and skin and keeps it off the bedding.

How do we treat pollen allergy?
Treatment of nasal symptoms of pollen allergy is usually with steroid nasal spray and oral anti-histamines. The eye symptoms are treated with lubricant eye drops, anti-histamine/mast cell stabilizer eye drops and occasionally steroid eye drops. In some children with severe seasonal pollen allergies, allergy medicines are started two weeks before the start of the season and stopped after the season is over. This is an effective way of preventing symptoms of pollen allergy. Few children and adults with severe and poorly controlled pollen allergy despite medicines and allergen avoidance require allergy shots or allergy drops or allergen immunotherapy.

A pediatric allergist can help with proper diagnosis of pollen allergy, appropriate advice on controlling symptoms including medicines and prescribing immunotherapy in children having severe pollen allergy!

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